Is there such a thing as an ‘addictive personality?’

Or am I just a person who forms habits too easily? Should I change my behaviour, or look deeper?

Fingernails fingerbiting nailbiting

Fingerbiting – my earliest compulsion © Laura Eades 2014

If you’ve been reading my previous posts about why I’m the perfect person to talk about habits (because I have a lot of bad ones), then you’ll know that I could probably turn headbutting ryvita into a life-stifling habit given half a chance to repeat the satisfying crunch of it.

Am I ‘an addictive personality’?

Guardian article from 2010: ‘There is no addictive personality. Dorothy Rowe says: “Nobody has a personality. Personality is just an abstract noun which refers to a person’s more or less regular ways of thinking and acting. Which change with time and circumstances”.

OK, I’m not a personality. Am I ‘addictive’?

Rowe explains that the actions we call addictions have two possible purposes.

One is to give us a break from the reality of our life: gin and tonic, every day after work. These kind of behaviours aren’t called addictions because everyone has them.

Second is as a defence against memories and emotions that threaten to overwhelm our sense of being a person: “When our sense of person is threatened, we feel that we are about to become wiped out as a person. We shall become a no-thing.”

Professor David Nutt puts it differently in this fascinating British Library public debate. He says: “Why in our brain do we have the propensity to become addicted to substances? It is all about LOVE. Substances are hijacking the pathways of love.”

Interesting. So maybe I’m a person who feels their personhood is in jeopardy. Whose love pathways have been hijacked. I don’t even know what those sentences mean, but they feel full of potential.

So, not a personality, but maybe a vulnerability?

Well, there are reasons for addictive behaviour. As Nutt says: “Never does one drug addict everyone”. Social factors? Your life, your environment, your relationships?

Well check this out. We think of certain substances as more addictive than others – those with physiological withdrawal – caffeine, smoking, alcohol, and drugs. But rats kept in Ratesque social housing (with space, light, playgrounds, etc) didn’t get addicted to morphine, whereas their ‘socially deprived’ fellow rats did.

Oh. Damn. I’ve got used to just saying “I’m prolifically habitual?”

You are, Laura. You do  something once, want to do it again tomorrow, and then do it so much the third day that it’s self-destructive. Sometimes doing something that’s not obviously pleasurable again and again, like removing one of your toenails. But what role do these habits play?

And can I change my habits? Can I change the reasons for them?

Can I learn to be selective about what the world throws my way? Food, drugs (I just mean the ordinary ones really, like booze and caffeine, since my life isn’t that rock n roll these days), jobs and opportunities (I feel compelled to jump hurdles even if they aren’t that dear to my heart)? Can I understand these urges and ride them out, watch them pass and leave me in peace?

 If you want to Mindfully overcome urges, perhaps you need to tune in to them

You can change your habits, slowly and specifically, but you’ll have greater success if you don’t see it purely as a discipline issue. That’s not compassionate, and it’s not fully aware.

You see, when we look into this habit business, we begin to open up the other dimensions. You can’t just change habits on the surface. You have to bear in mind that we are operating on all kinds of levels.

  • Our unconscious is taking us along certain behaviour routes without even asking our permission
  • Our emotions have demanded that we make certain choices along the way to negotiate pain, (and we’ve stuck by those choices out of habit)
  • Our patterns of relating to those around us have knock-on effects

That’s why I’m blogging about all kinds of approach to happiness – self-hypnosis, mindfulness, addiction, therapy, and relationships, as well as the forensic work of habit change itself.

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Want to join in this discussion? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Click on the pale grey dot with a plus sign, underneath this blogpost, to open up the comment thread.

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